Add to your altar a nightlight (real or LED) and a little note saying, “The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness have never overwhelmed it”.
In her book Into the Heart of Advent, Penelope Wilcock takes us on a journey through the themes of Advent by a series of imagined conversations with Jesus.
During the Advent season, the light shining in the darkness is a theme emerging for us very clearly. When the gospel was taken to Chinese Taoists in the seventh century, they responded with particular warmth to John’s Gospel, that sees Jesus as the Light of the World — and they referred to their new faith as “the light religion.” The prologue of John’s Gospel, read every year at the close of the traditional Church of England Nine Lessons and Carols, is one of the best loved scriptures about this way of seeing Jesus — “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:3b-5 NRSVA).
Here are two other scriptures that speak of God’s presence with us as light:
The people walking in darknessIsaiah 9:2 NIVUK
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.1 John 2:8-11 NIVUK
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
In the weeks of Advent, everywhere we begin to see Christmas lights appearing. Often they are multi-coloured strings of lights, perhaps thread across the street or bobbling in the wind on a fir tree in the town square, or shining from the windows of someone’s home as night falls.
Light holds, within its brightness, every colour of the spectrum — that’s why, if you shine a ray of light through a prism you can see the rainbow of colours. It speaks to us of the triune God who holds diversity within unbroken unity, and of the common humanity that binds the human race together even though our differences can be very pronounced and often a source of tension.
On these dark evenings, perhaps you might like to go for a prayer walk through the streets of your town or village, looking at the Christmas lights. Each set of illuminations is unique to that place; no two homes decorate their Christmas tree in quite the same way. And yet they all bear the similarity of the season. All different, and all the same. As you walk along, maybe you can enfold in your prayer and love the human race, especially where it is hurting. Think about refugees on fragile boats making the dangerous sea crossings, or in makeshift shelters as they wait to find a home. Sometimes they must rely on a phone for light — both physically and in the solace of offering connection with their home left behind and their scattered family. Think about the places wounded by the violence of racism. Just as the lights of many colours thread along one string, all lit by the cable that holds them together, so we are one world, one humanity, even though we look different from one another. We are all connected. As you see the bright, brave, joyous little lights shining out, entrust into God’s care the homes and shops, and the people who live or work there. Bless their light, their courage, their joy, their playfulness, and invite the Light of the World into the darkness of their loneliness, their money worries, their health challenges or their troubled relationships.
If it isn’t practical for you to leave your home and go for a prayer walk in the evening, perhaps you could follow the same thread of prayer within your home. Put a candle in your window as a sign of light in a dark world. Hang a string of lights up where you can see it, or turn out the main light and sit in quietness looking at your Christmas tree, folding into God’s healing love this battered world — knowing that with all our differences, still we belong to one another.
Into the Heart of Advent explores the theme of light (witness, insight, transformation), especially in chapters 8, 12, 13, 18 and 25 — as follows:
Ch.8, Candles, In a story about shopping for candles, this chapter explores some practical aspects of witness being welcoming, considerate and imaginatively responsible in our Christian practice of hospitality, and being realistically flexible in ordering our priorities as we respond to the requirements of circumstances.
Ch.12, Starlight, considers what the stars really are, and what their purpose and message might be.
Ch. 13, The Magi, holds in focus the Wise Men of Matthew’s gospel — and the gifts they brought to Jesus in homage. This chapter thinks about living respectfully with cultural difference, and about travelling in darkness with only a star to guide you.
Ch. 18, Angels, looks at how angels are portrayed today, and considers what they are — blazing in glory and robed in light.
Ch.25, The Infant Light, is about what John calls “the true light, which enlightens everyone” (NRSVA), coming into the world as the infant light, a seed of light in the time of deepest darkness, to wake up and draw forth the light that is dormant inside us.
Reading these chapters in advance may help your home group prepare.
Lord Jesus, you hold the light for us to see the way. You comfort us by illuminating our darkness. Your love and hope shine steadily within us as a candle of faith. Your gospel is the light left on in the porch to guide us home. May our lives radiate and reflect your glory, and our witness shine undimmed — for you are worth it, dear Lord, our redeemer, our brother and our friend. Amen.